The Goverment Planning Reforms and the National Trust

Over the last few weeks there has been a national campaign by the National Trust to gather awareness about, and a petition against, the Government's currently planned changes in the draft National Planning Policy Framework (or NPPF).  

On Saturday last, Mark Harold, National Trust Director for the South-West, outlined in the Western Morning News what this all means exactly, and why it matters - why everyone should be concerned and should get involved. 

Here's the transcript

"In times of economic uncertainty and instability, there’s not much it seems that we can take for granted, including job security, the value of our pensions, the price of food and the cost of an education. Still, one thing that I would hope we could all take for granted is the ability to wander out each day onto our favorite patch of green space– be it a local common, heath or woodland – and just enjoy the refreshment that it brings; be it walking the dog, watching the kids play or just seeing wildlife and the seasons pass. However, if the government makes its currently proposed changes to the national planning system, it will mean that these precious, local green spaces get added to the growing list of things that many of us can no longer take for granted. This is why the National Trust is standing up and demanding that it amends its proposal so that these local green spaces remain safe from inappropriate development.

To spell out the challenge: the government’s currently planned changes set out in the draft National Planning Policy Framework (or NPPF) claim to deliver simplicity, sustainable development and local democracy- which may all sound fine, but the devil is in the detail. Sustainable development requires the careful balancing of economic, social and environmental considerations and it is precisely what the existing approach to planning strives to achieve. In the new draft NPPF, however, the language gives far more weight to commercial considerations than the needs of the local community or environment. As such, we welcome David Cameron’s recent assurance that this imbalance will be redressed.

As the draft NPPF currently stands – unredressed - property developers will only need to show how their plans deliver economic growth, for any other consideration to be put aside. Further, if a local authority’s own planning strategy is ‘silent, indeterminate or out-of-date’ – which applies to almost half the country - then that authority stands little chance of sustaining any objections to commercial development and a high likelihood of losing on appeal. The Localism Bill – now in the House of Lords – also currently includes an override that would make it impossible for local communities to choose or block developments that contradict the core principles of the Bill, including national policy, such as the NPPF, and a default ‘yes’ to development.

In effect, the National Trust believes that – without redress – the government’s originally planned changes to the planning regime would do the exact opposite of delivering sustainable development and local democracy. As currently drafted, the changes would deliver the vested interests of property developers at the expense of local communities, the natural and historic environment and our local landscapes. Although the NPPF is ‘draft’, planning advisors have already been told to abide by it. Campaigning against this situation is about campaigning for the right to safeguard our ordinary green spaces – the local places that we would like to take for granted - and that is why the National Trust is asking people to show their support and keep up pressure on the government by signing our online petition.

Some of our opponents have said that we oppose the government’s plans because the National Trust somehow wants to preserve the countryside in aspic and resist all growth, which simply isn’t true. Of course, the National Trust is well known for its conservation of formal gardens and properties, but it is also involved in making its land available to local communities – by creating new allotments to meet rapidly growing demand, by developing community supported agricultural schemes, and by undertaking initiatives to improve access to our land – and we want to do much more of this. Throughout the Trust, on our many farms – from the Lizard to our 6400 acre estate at Killerton, north of Exeter - we work so closely with the land that we know it is simply impossible to preserve it in aspic. We also have the challenge of wanting to improve access to some of our land by undertaking careful development – such as our proposed cycle tracks and cafĂ© at Plymbridge Woods, which is currently attracting much debate, both for and against. We want a strong planning process where developments such as Plymbridge can be decided on the balance of public interest.

I have worked at the National Trust for most of my working life and I am as passionate about protecting the green spaces around our towns and villages for the use and enjoyment of people of the South-West, as I am about safeguarding our spectacular coast, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and World Heritage Sites. If you care about your local green spaces, then please help us to keep up pressure on the government by signing our petition, available on our website;